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AG warns Mississippi mayor’s open carry ban is not constitutional

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A Mississippi mayor’s ban on the open carrying of firearms amid a coronavirus emergency declaration is being criticized and even challenged by the state’s attorney general.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch directly addressed Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba in a letter calling out the attempt to strip the constitutional rights of constituents during the emergency orders issued by Gov. Tate Reeves. The temporary ban on the open carry of guns in Mississippi’s capital city was also being challenged in a lawsuit filed by a Republican state lawmaker on Tuesday.

(Image: WAPT screenshot)

“I have serious concerns about the Order and the burden it imposes upon Mississippians’ constitutional right to possess firearms,” Fitch wrote to the Democratic mayor, referring to his executive order signed on Saturday and extended to the end of his stay-at-home order which expires Thursday.

The Republican attorney general questioned Lumumba’s “purported authority” based on Mississippi code, noting that while he may proclaim a “civil emergency,” he is not authorized to “suspend any valid state statute or constitutional right.”

“The Governor’s Proclamation does not authorize you to suspend the right to open carry, or any other statute or constitutional provision governing firearm possession,” Fitch wrote.

“While the Order seeks to suspend the ‘open carry of firearms,’ it does not identify any specific statute or statutes that it seeks to suspend,” the letter continued. “The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right, enshrined in the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Mississippi. In an effort to provide safeguards to the diminution of this right, the Mississippi Legislature has imposed strict limitations on a municipality’s authority to regulate ‘the possession, carrying, transportation, sale, transfer or ownership of firearms or ammunition or their components.'”

The office of the Attorney General is charged with “ensuring local governing authorities do not exceed their statutory power to restrict certain firearm possession,” Fitch added.

She concluded by asking Lumumba to “immediately” rescind his order. Her letter came just after US Attorney General William Barr advised federal prosecutors across the nation to be on the “lookout” for state and local coronavirus directives that go too far.

“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Barr warned in a memo issued Monday.

Jackson’s mayor cited Mississippi’s lax gun laws for the “senseless gun violence” that killed two children within a week in the city.

“For too long, gun violence has plagued our city and disproportionately affected black and brown communities here in Jackson and nationwide,” Lumumba had said in a video message.”Repeal the open carry law, which makes it impossible for our police officers to root out illegal firearms in our streets. How many babies do we have to bury to appease someone’s desire to open carry?”

His order banning the open carry of guns in Jackson led state Rep. Dana Criswell to file a lawsuit, saying the mayor “exploited the present public health crisis” in order to infringe on the Second Amendment right, the Jackson Free Press reported.

“The mayor’s attempt to disarm me and deny me the ability of self-defense puts me and my family in danger anytime we are in Jackson,” Criswell, a licensed firearms dealer, said in a statement.

An attorney who has argued gun rights cases before the state high court maintained that Lumumba lacks the authority to impose his gun ban.

“The mayor may have the best of intentions, but the Mississippi Supreme Court has made it clear you can’t deprive a person of a constitutional right,” attorney Thomas Payne said, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “It’s a no-brainer, it’s unconstitutional and illegal.”

“The mayor is way off-base and I am confident there will be a quick legal fix to the circus he has created,”  retired police officer and firearms instructor Rick Ward said. “Guns are not the problem. Criminals are the problem and they couldn’t care less about his executive order.”

Frieda Powers

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